Travel allows you to do three things: see new places, experience new things and meet new people. Over the course of our recent journey we have found that the people we met had an incredibly strong impact on the enjoyment we got from the trip.
Travel also provides the literal and metaphorical distance required to see “home” more clearly. Having had 20 years of business travel around the globe we have seen many exotic and interesting places but we have generally returned with a renewed appreciation of the good things about living in Britain. This trip it has been a little different. In large part because of the stark contrast between the bitterness and division being caused by Brexit in the UK and the welcome that we received from almost everyone we encountered in our journey across South Eastern Europe.
To be able to properly interact with people you need to share a common language. Unfortunately, my Italian is best described as rudimentary and our Greek and Turkish doesn’t extend much beyond being able to say please and thank you. However, friendliness and kindness can be conveyed through very simple gestures and our journey from Rome to Istanbul was enriched by an incredible number of these.
The people we interacted with most were usually the owners of the houses or apartments that we stayed in along the way. So in part this blog is a thank you to all those people who acted as our “hosts” over the course of our journey. What we got from these people was a sense that they were quietly proud of where they lived and wanted to share this with visitors. Often this sharing had a tangible form, whether it was the delicious cakes given to us by Ornella and her family, our hosts in Crispiano, the freedom to pick oranges and lemons from trees belonging to Adrienne and Paul, our hosts in Kyparissi, the mulberries, grapefruit and carob pods we were given by Serap our host in Datca, or the excellent Turkish wine given to us by Taner our host in Izmir.
Perhaps, the most unexpected gift was given to us in Sicily. We were wandering up a dirt track just outside the town of Ragusa trying to find a crag when a fairly beaten up old car pulled over in front of us. A man got out and approached us gesticulating, although he didn’t seem unfriendly our first thought was that he didn’t want us there. This was completely wrong, he was just curious about who we were and why we were there – it wasn’t somewhere that received many visitors! After several minutes of him talking loudly at us in Italian and us replying in English we managed to communicate what were doing well enough for him to be able to point out the path we were struggling to find. He then went back to his car, indicating that we should wait. He rustled around in the back of his car for a while and then returned with pictures of his impressive garden and a piece of crumbled old newspaper. This turned out to be full of sunflower seeds. He was obviously very proud of his garden and wanted to share it with us. Hopefully, now the seeds have been planted in our garden, they will survive the Northumbrian weather and give us a constant reminder of this lovely encounter.
But kindness isn’t just about gifts, what made us feel most welcome was being greeted by people whose smiles and enthusiasm were genuine. It was also about people sharing with us their thoughts and feelings about the place in which they lived. Both Greece and Turkey, in particular, have gone through interesting times in the last few years and like almost everywhere still have major challenges to deal with. But talking to Adrienne and Paul in Kyparissi and Taner in Izmir gave us a sense that many people in these countries have a real sense of optimism about the future, which is increasingly difficult to find in the UK.
What this trip has really reinforced is our belief in the old adage “travel broadens the mind”. This applies just as much when travelling relatively close to home and meeting people from cultures that are not that different from our own. In this day and age what we need to be focussing on is how similar people are no matter where they are from. In doing so, we can much more easily understand and become enriched by the subtle differences in cultures and attitudes.
Our three months in South East Europe hasn’t only inflamed our passion for climbing it has also revitalised our love of travel and to engage with the world around us. For that we would like to offer a huge thank you to everyone we encountered on our journey.